Tenay Barker (They/Them)


How would you describe your identities?

I identify as a non-binary masc, lesbian. My pronouns are they/them, and would consider my expression to be more an androgynous masculine type. I like wearing some make up and definitely love my jewelry and accessories. My style can change from 2000 Sk8er Boi to what I would call “papi”, to Very dark and edgy. And it is still evolving to this day.

Ambiguous Beauty celebrates those who identify and express themselves through masculine and feminine energies. Please share a bit about your journey to self-discovery. Did you ever feel like you had to choose one or the other (masculine vs feminine)?

Growing up as a biological female, I was already conditioned to fall into certain gender, norms and roles growing up in Texas. I had long hair and tried to dress feminine try to experiment with make up when I could, and try to have crushes on boys. Once I got into college, I was able to explore more of my orientation and understand that I fall into the LGBTQ community. I came out as a lesbian, on national out day, and shortly there started experimenting in more of a masculine type of expression. I started wearing more masculine tech clothes and becoming more tomboyish. If anything once I graduated college and moved away, was really when I got to truly experiment my expression, and fully going into a masculine Expression.

I was wearing button-down and predominantly wearing “men’s” clothes. I cut my hair short toward the end of my college journey, and that was so liberating, and my confidence only grew. After a couple years of experimenting with my style, I realized that I did not find myself filling into a idea where I was considered a woman nor did I want to be considered a man. Once I discovered the non-binary community, I felt more peace I transition my identity into non-binary in 2021 when I left my job for a new opportunity and moved to Seattle. There I was exclusively wearing men’s clothing and identifying as non-binary and going by they/them pronouns. When I started dating my current partner, who is a cosmetologist, it gave me the opportunity to start experimenting with more feminine expressions, such as adding a little bit of make up, and a more feminine way to style, my masculine clothing. With her support and love and freedom to express myself, it opened up my style and made me more confident made me more handsome and made me more beautiful.

What has been the most significant challenge you have experienced in expressing masculine and feminine traits?

The most memorable challenge that I have face being openly, non-binary, is obviously when it comes to my expression, sometimes I am mistaken for both genders. I think the most entertaining is with kids. some of them do look confused and ask their parents questions which I don’t mind and some are bewildered and will ask me questions. Like my son for example. It gives me the opportunity to teach them about a little bit about expression and identity. To know that there are people who don’t consider themselves a boy or a girl and that it’s ok. They are still cool people. Being a parent, now I am able to help my son be friends with all types of people and not stick to those traditional gender roles and norms that are typically put on kids from previous generations. I want my son to grow up to be a kind and amazing individual and know that we will love him no matter how he identifies or who he loves. He’s only four now, so he will grow up and understand more about my identity but right now he sees me as someone who will pillow fight and play Legos with him.

Have you ever experienced rejection or discrimination due to this expression?

I haven’t experienced full rejection for my identity, but when it came to my family, there was a lot of confusion and some anger with that confusion. They love me for who I am but understanding my non-binary identity is definitely a challenge for them that I’m not sure if they fully understand the impact it has. outside of that I’ve been welcomed in many different experiences with open arms from my identity. I fully embrace it and won’t shy away from how people treat me just because of my identity. I think the biggest part of being in this community and being more ambiguous is that people do make assumptions maybe not on my gender, but on my identity of being in the trans community. As flattering as that is for me, I think there needs to be more of a distinction between someone who is trans and someone who has a masculine or feminine expression. It may not fit into the traditional, gender, norms, or roles, it’s hard to understand that non-binary may be under the trans umbrella, but doesn’t always mean that we are trans. people that are trans they still deserve the same love and respect and visibility.

At some point in our journeys, we come to a place of self-acceptance. When did you come to understand who you are and that you were beautiful?

I accepted that I was non-binary and 2021 whenever I moved to Seattle. But understanding that I was still beautiful, even though I wanted to remain masculine and handsome and charming, I think it wasn’t until I started dating my current partner that I did consider myself beautiful. She gave me the freedom to express myself and showed me so much love and support in my identity that I felt so confident and who I was and what makes me the way I am. On top of that my confidence started building when I started taking care of my body, and committing myself to a fitness lifestyle. Being able to take care of my body and show it the same love helped with my image, confidence, self-love.

What is your experience in the workplace? Have your identities helped or hindered your career opportunities?

Before moving to Seattle, I worked for a company that was very conservative and its views, and I worked with people that had very conservative views. I didn’t understand the meaning of community when it came to being a part of the LGBTQ plus identity that they didn’t care what you were they wanted you to work and being questioned on my sexuality of “ if I’m really gay”. I knew for myself that I wouldn’t be fully accepted in a place like that so I joined Microsoft and was fully accepted for my identity and even though people were new to it, they still adjusted and sometimes they make mistakes, but always learn from them now that I work for Disney. It’s been a difference of a change, because we are more in person and don’t wear a name tag that has my pronoun displayed. there’s more assumption but never negative comments or discrimination. Everyone is actually super willing to learn, and make sure that I do feel seen and respected.

Has being a person of color who identifies with masculine and feminine characteristics impacted how people relate and respond to you?

I don’t think so when it comes to my relatability. I am a people person and generally try to make genuine connections with people who are different than me. I’m also a public speaker and has spoken to audiences of vast different backgrounds, and identities and cultures. if anything, I hope to give visibility to those that might be the way that I am feeling or have felt in my past. I am wanting to educate and show everyone love and compassion on what makes my identity, my identity and how others might need their support and if they come across someone like me. I have an authentic story, and that authenticity does resonate with people when I talk to them. I’m glad they see me who I am and not just for my identity, even though my identity is a part of me.

What do you want people who don’t understand you to know?

People who live in this ambiguity of expression are not to be scared of. They have interesting stories, and if anything want to show you the same respect and if you’re open to it, educate you. we are becoming more popular as a community and just want respect and inclusiveness to not being seen as one way or another. Please try your best to not assume, that’s why questions are always welcome!! We live in Gray because that’s what makes us feel like our true selves. Ask us questions if you’re curious, befriend us, include us. That’s all that I want to see for people like me.

Kamal Lado (they/he)
Kamal Lado (they/he) NYC